Two bills have made it past the Senate and House in the State of Washington. These bills show that the soil health campaign started by Roylene Comes at Night, Washington State Conservationist, in 2014 has real traction and a new and exciting life of its own. A very special shout-out to Gary Farrell, the benefactor of the original Soil Health Committee, without whom it would not have lived and breathed and made a multitude of successful grants that have provided the groundwork, literally, for a new Soil Health Movement in our state.
As co-chairs, Lynn Bahrych and Gary Farrell led a volunteer committee of producers, conservation district staff and supervisors, educators, and state and federal agency representatives to invest grant funds from the state Conservation Commission and the federal NRCS in dozens of innovative soil health practices across the state from 2015 until today. The results of those experiments will be published by the end of 2020 and so far have been truly remarkable, thanks to the hard work and inspiration of those receiving the grants. The successes and lessons learned during these five years will be passed along to the committee in its next home at the Washington State Conservation Commission.
First is SB 5947 – 2019-20 which establishes the sustainable farms and fields grant program.
“The legislature finds that Washington’s working agricultural lands are essential to the economic and social well-being of our rural communities and to the state’s overall environment and economy. The legislature further finds that different challenges and opportunities exist to expand the use of precision agriculture for different crops in the state by assisting farmers, ranchers, and aquaculturists to purchase equipment and receive technical assistance to reduce their operations’ carbon footprint while ensuring that crops and soils receive exactly what they need for optimum health and productivity. Moreover, the legislature finds that opportunities exist to enhance soil health through carbon farming and regenerative agriculture by increasing soil organic carbon levels while ensuring appropriate carbon to nitrogen ratios, and to store carbon in standing trees, seaweed, and other vegetation. Therefore, it is the intent of the legislature to provide cost sharing competitive grant opportunities to enable farmers and ranchers to adopt practices that increase appropriate quantities of carbon stored in and above their soil and to initiate or expand the use of precision agriculture on their farms. This act seeks to leverage and enhance existing state and federal cost-sharing programs for farm, ranch, and aquaculture operations.”
“The legislature finds that healthy soil is a cornerstone of a high quality of life on earth and that soil health is integral to supporting agricultural viability, promoting positive environmental outcomes, and ensuring the long-term availability of nutritious food.
It is the intent of the legislature that the mission of the Washington soil health initiative be the promotion of collaborative soil health research, education, demonstration projects, and technical assistance activities designed to identify, promote, and implement soil health stewardship practices that are grounded in sound science and that can be voluntarily and economically implemented by farmers and ranchers across Washington’s diverse agricultural communities, climates, and geographies.”
This program is available to agricultural producers through 2019 who sign up on the indigoag.com website.
In June of 2019, an international project was launched to pay farmers by the acre of cropland to adopt “regenerative growing practices.” It’s called the “The Terraton Initiative.”
In the few months since it started, ten million acres of cropland have been enrolled by producers willing to use one or more regenerative practices, for example, cover crops, crop rotation, no-till, reduced pesticide, and fertilizer, or integrated livestock management. Producers receive a minimum of $15 per metric ton of carbon dioxide sequestered in their soils, as measured by remote sensing and breakthroughs in data science. It is now possible to make accurate, efficient, affordable measurements of soil carbon levels by remote sensing methods. The producers who have enrolled their cropland in this program will not only build healthier soil, which will increase their yield but will be paid a bonus for doing so.
For more information on this new program, go to indigoag.com.
At a recent Orcas Island Farmers Market in the San Juan Islands, our Committee Chair, Lynn Bahrych, ran into Girl Meets Dirt. Girl Meets Dirt is an established business on Orcas. They make organic jams, shrubs, and spreads from heritage fruit produced at old orchards that they help maintain. Girl Meets Dirt helps the orchardist do the pruning and soil enhancements for the fruit trees. Then they harvest and process the fruit. Girl Meets Dirt creates new and delicious jams from the ground up, starting with soil health improvement. This is why we decided to share a bit about them!
Our friends at NRCS Pullman have been doing cover crop trials. The NRCS Pullman Plant Materials Program staff started a forage cover crops field trial in the Columbia Hills on a dryland wheat/fallow cropping system. They were evaluating cover crops planted in fall or late winter of the fallow year for establishment, growth, forage production and weed control. A Great Plains no-till drill was used to plant several cover crop mixes and several varieties of winter peas. The winter planting was done on March 7, 2018, and the fall planting was done on September 11, 2018. Monitoring was conducted periodically throughout the growing season.
Click here to read the full report. Below are some pictures from the trials. A special thank you goes out to Soil Health Committee Member Allen Casey for sharing.
In March of 2017, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee discussed soil health and farming in the state of Washington.
“One of the great blessings of the state of Washington is our farmland and preserving it is not only iconic for the state of Washington but necessary for our survival economically.” Says Governor Inslee in his opening remarks.
If you do not want to watch the entire session, you can skip ahead. The section about soils starts at 19.28 and runs through 22.24.
Thank you to Results Washington and TVW for supplying the video.
On October 3rd, 2018, the television show “Washington Grown” filmed on Dale Gies’ farm Dale Gies is a potato farmer outside of Moses Lake, WA. Dale plants mustard before planting potatoes as a way to control nematodes instead of using commercial fumigants. These are some clips from the day of filming.
Hear from farmers about cover cropping and grazing in dryland wheat. There will also be updates from RMA, NRCS, and WSU on soil health and animal nutrition.
The Field Day will take place on October 4th, 2018. The tour will start at Cavadini Partnership in Bridgeport and end at the Double J ranch in Okanogan. Following the tour, there will be beverages and a BBQ.
The Washington State Soil Health Committee has started an education and outreach program in San Juan County. The project aims to distribute, at no cost, surplus native bare-root trees that would otherwise be destroyed at the end of the nursery season. The trees will go to landowners in San Juan County who are doing shoreline restoration, wetland recovery, or native tree planting. So far, hundreds of bare-root native trees have been provided to three San Juan County farms: Smiling Dog Farm on Orcas Island, Horseshu Farm on San Juan Island, and Ken Davis’s farm on San Juan Island.
Trees capture and store more energy than any other organisms on Earth.
What will a native tree do?
Provides fresh oxygen for you to breathe. One acre of forest absorbs 6 tons of carbon dioxide and exhales 4 tons of fresh oxygen (USDA), cleaning our air and combating climate change.
Cleans air by removing small particulates, reducing symptoms of asthma and other respiratory diseases.
Filters groundwater by root chemistry. Tree leaves and needles transpire, creating clean, tree-filtered water, cooling and cleansing the air.
Shields other living creatures, including you, from solar heat, blocking ultraviolet rays that cause cancer.
Aids in recharging groundwater supply by preventing rain runoff from surrounding soils.
Produces aerosols from some trees, like willows, that fight cancer, while other trees produce antibiotic aerosols.
Reduces depression and anxiety. Visual exposure to trees has produced recovery from stress in five minutes, as measured by blood pressure and muscle tension, according to research at Texas A & M University.
What will your native tree do for your soil?
Trees transfer solar energy to the soil, through photosynthesis, to feed the microbes that give soil life, that makes “living soil.”
Trees prevent soil erosion in the broad area of their rooting zone, providing sub-surface drainage for rain runoff and holding the soil in place.
Trees prevent large-scale flooding, which washes topsoil away.
Trees produce organic material that enriches the soil, such as leaves and decomposing branches.
Trees fix nitrogen in the soil.
Trees work symbiotically with the fungal mat that lies under the ground, giving soil structure, and supporting all terrestrial life in mysterious ways.
What other benefits will the ecosystem receive?
In San Juan County, planting trees on the shoreline produces humic acid which stimulates the growth of plankton in sea water, thereby enriching the food web in the Salish Sea.
Trees provide habitat and food for birds and other animals. Your wildlife will love you, especially if you leave dead trees standing. Birds and other nesting creatures regard a dead snag as premium residential housing, as well as five-star dining on resident bugs.
In an article on the Daily Press website, NASA Langley scientist touts biochar: as an ‘environmental superstar.’
From the article:
“Biochar can be made from common organic waste material — from chicken and cow poop to sticks and brush from your yard. It can make environmentally unfriendly synthetic fertilizers obsolete. It can trap nutrient runoff before it pollutes places like the Chesapeake Bay. It can even filter out toxic heavy metals from water.”
The Washington State Soil Health Committee has funded two grant projects featuring biochar. One of the biochar projects is in San Juan County and the other is in Mason County. Below are the summaries of each project.
San Juan Conservation District:
Continuation of biochar project begun in 2016. Following up on the original six-farm test plots, in which biochar was added to soil, the yield will be evaluated in the spring of 2018. In addition to the test plots, biochar kilns were designed and provided to forest landowners on each of the four ferry-served islands. Workshops were offered on each island to demonstrate how to make biochar from forest waste. Online instructions are available for making biochar at home.
Biochar was added as an alternative to the slash burns in the County’s draft Solid Waste Management Plan.
The San Juan Conservation District also starts a new three-year project to introduce no till-direct seed practices to the county, including use of cover crops to improve soil health and limit use of chemicals.
Mason County Conservation District:
The goal is to fill the knowledge gaps on the effects of biochar in the Mason County region. The project will involve measuring the effects of biochar on the balance of pH, the retention of nutrients, the amount of soil microorganisms in local soil types, and crop yield.